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Keeping History Alive

with DSO President and CEO Erik Rönmark

Objects in Detroit Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Erik Rönmark’s collection of DSO artifacts range from obscure recordings to a fascinating symphony-themed cookbook. Take a tour with us in this photo essay.

As you step into Erik’s office, you’re greeted by clean, open space. Large windows offer an unobstructed view of Woodward Avenue, and a gray sofa with simple lines supplies a modern touch. The absence of paper stacks and clutter may reflect his Scandinavian heritage, known for functionality that doesn’t sacrifice beauty. One thing is for sure: inspection of Erik’s bookshelves reveals a carefully curated collection of DSO memorabilia, and there’s beauty in the details.  

Erik's collection, which includes everything from batons to a special orchestra-themed cookbook, began with records, a passion he's had for as long as he can remember. His interest in the Mercury Living Presence label led him to the DSO's recordings under Paul Paray. “When I started working in the DSO music library in 2005, I liked looking through old programs, and that’s when I began searching for DSO memorabilia online—books, photos, posters, everything. I like history, and for me, learning about the DSO is fascinating: the programs, and the people who have supported us for over a century.” 

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What do George Washington’s Wedding Cake, Stuffed Eggs in Tomato Jelly, and New Orleans Oyster Loaf have in common? They’re all recipes found in the Symphony Cookery cookbook Erik scored on eBay. The small green book, bound with metal rings, and written in a cheerful tone, was put together by the Women’s Association for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Starting in the 1920s, the dedicated group of society women advocated for a thriving institution and raised funds for the orchestra. An inscription on the book’s first page reads: To our symphony patrons and loyal friends among the chefs and managers of Detroit clubs, hotels, and restaurants we extend hearty thanks. We are especially grateful to our outdoor friends among the gentlemen who have given up the long-guarded secrets of camp cooking. And last—but not least—heartfelt thanks to the officers of the Association—our beloved Symphony President and our enthusiastic Manager of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  

Erik says, “I had seen other, more recent, cookbooks around the offices but the binding of this was unique and once I saw some of the names [from the contributed recipes], like Mrs. Gabrilowitsch and Edith Rhetts Tilton, I realized how old it probably was, so I had to have it!” 

The cookbook likely dates back to the 1930s, judging by its contributors, including the Colony Club, opened in 1928, Victor Kolar, DSO Assistant Conductor from 1920-1941, Clara Gabrilowitsch, daughter of Mark Twain and wife of DSO conductor Ossip, Edith Rhetts Tilton, the DSO’s first education director in 1924, and Gardencio Garces, the original head chef of the Book-Cadillac Hotel’s opulent Venetian Dining Room in 1924.

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In a corner sits a music stand displaying one of four shellac records the DSO recorded with Gabrilowitsch at Orchestra Hallthe first released recordings of the DSO, recorded live on April 17-18, 1928. One of them was so hard to find and I remember finally finding it from a seller in South America, so I now have the complete set. It’s amazing that we have recorded for almost 100 years!

Auctions are a gamble and artifacts can be cost-prohibitive to acquire. When asked what’s missing from his collection, Erik wistfully recounts, “I lost out on an autographed baton of Antal Dorati’s that would have probably made it on my wall! There was also an unreleased 1959 recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto at the United Nations, with the DSO, Paul Paray, and Jascha Heifetz. I really wanted to buy that, but it was so expensive. I later found it digitized so at least I’ve heard it.  

My wife [DSO violinist Adrienne Rönmark] often shared a stand with Felix Resnick when she first started playing with the orchestra. Felix would tell stories about Paray and playing with Heifetz.”  

Erik’s office isn’t just a workspace; it’s a small museum whose objects and the stories they tell inspire him to carry on the legacy of the DSO.

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